Video: Through the world of Herge (1907-1983)

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Herge became so completely identified with Tintin that whenever he arrived at a reception, it was as if Lewis Carroll was making an appearance at a children’s tea party. His easy serenity and friendly manner, the gentle magnetism of his presence made everyone forget that the character he created inhabited only a paper universe. Countless number of people claim to be complete strangers to the world of comic strips and never read comic books, then add, ‘Except for Tintin!’ 

Born Georges Prosper Remi on 22nd may, 1907, Remi was known by his pen name, Herge, from the French pronunciation of his reversed initials, RG. 

Born to a lower-middle-class family in Etterbeek, Brussels, Remi developed a love of cinema, favouring Winsor McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ and the films of Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon and Buster Keaton. His later work in the comic strip medium displayed an obvious influence from them in style and content. Although not a keen reader, he enjoyed the novels of the British and US authors, such as ‘Huckleberry Finn’, ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and ‘The Pickwick Papers’, as well as the novels of Frenchman Alexandre Dumas. 

Drawing as a hobby, he sketched out scenes from daily life along the edges of his school books. Some of these illustrations were of German soldiers, because his four years of primary schooling at the Lxelles Municipal School No. 3, which coincided with World War 1, during which Brussels was occupied by the German army.

 A few years later, working for the conservative Catholic newspaper ‘Le Vintieme Siecle’, he created ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ in 1929 on the advice of its editor Norbert Wallez. Hergé developed Tintin as a Belgian boy reporter who could travel the world with his fox terrier Snowy – ‘Milou’ in original French — basing him in large part on his earlier character of Totor and also on his own brother, Paul. The series’ early instalments – ‘Tintin in the Land of the Soviets’, ‘Tintin in the Congo’ and ‘Tintin in America’ – were designated as conservative propaganda for children.

After the Allied liberation of Belgium in 1944, the newspaper where Herge worked – ‘Le Soir’ – shut down, and its staff – including Hergé – accused of having been collaborators. An official investigation was launched, and although no charges were brought against Hergé, in subsequent years, he repeatedly faced accusations of having been a traitor and collaborator. With Raymond Leblanc he established ‘Tintin’ magazine in 1946, through which he serialised new ‘Adventures of Tintin’ stories. 

In 1950, he established Studios Herge, as a team to aid him in his ongoing projects where prominent staff members Jacques Martin and Bob De Moor greatly contributed to subsequent volumes of ‘The Adventures of Tintin’. Amid personal turmoil following the collapse of his first marriage, he produced ‘Tintin in Tibet’, his personal favourite of his works. In later years, he became less prolific, and unsuccessfully attempted to establish himself as an abstract artiste. 

Hergé’s works have been widely acclaimed for their clarity of draughtsmanship and meticulous, well-researched plots. They have been the source of a wide range of adaptations, in theatre, radio, television, cinema, and computer gaming. He remains a strong influence on the comic book medium, across the world. He is widely celebrated in Belgium: A Herge Museum was established in Louvain-la-Neuve in 2009. 

It is said Herge was the personification of Belgium. He remains one of the last myths of the Belgium Federation. If the character of Tintin was clear-headed and upbeat, then his creator was contradictory and inscrutable. It is difficult to taker at face value this extraordinarily creative person who, after revolutionizing his art form, and leaving an indelible mark on his age, can say in the most unassuming way, “let’s not exaggerate… I was just happy drawing little guys, that’s all.”

 In 2011, ‘Tintin in Congo’ was banned for children over racism fears. Though, recently, a modified version of the Tintin comic books has been released to address the racism controversy, but it has received mixed responses from anti-racism groups. 

In 1979, Hergé was diagnosed with osteomyelofibrosis, necessitating a complete blood transfusion. His need for blood transfusions had increased, as he came to require them every two weeks, and then every week. On 25 February 1983, he suffered a cardiac arrest. He had been scheduled to meet with Steven Spielberg, who later made The Adventures of Tintin (2011). He died at Saint-Luc on 3 March, 1983.

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